Intentions, Repentance, and Free Speech: Ruby Woo Day 1

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Let me tell you, folks, getting here feels like a major accomplishment. I don’t know what it all was, but this week has been a major struggle. I had anxiety and panic-type flares for lack of a better term. And I’m super tired from getting everything ready to leave, and then plane, uber, hotel, straight into a meeting with no buffer because I was the last to arrive tonight, so I’m sort of wide open with the help of an IPA from the hotel bar. But now I’m tucked in and in yoga pants and I’m decompressing.

The trip leaders/facilitators lead us through a community-building exercise that started with a community safety agreement, which was fabulous. We were asked to imagine a person that we felt comfortable confessing to when we had messed up/sinned. And then in a word or phrase we shared aspects of what we thought of when we thought of that person. This sparked conversation about what we wanted to see in community throughout the trip and got us to go deeper faster I guess for lack of a better term in the sense that we have a lot of intense ground to cover in a short time and we needed a framework to help us get there.

We talked about intention vs. impact and which do we hold or can we hold them both or do we center impact. This is important in a multi-racial space because white folks often like to center intention when they do something that causes harm as though saying, “well, I didn’t mean too…” is some kind of get out of jail free card. This dovetails with a discussion I was having earlier this week regarding people treating repentance as a get out of jail free card, much like some do with the concept of free speech as though that means there should be no consequences for anything people say, when in reality free speech means you don’t get jailed for what you say, but it doesn’t mean you can’t get fired from your job or experience other personal consequences.

In Christian tradition, true repentance should be about facing and even welcoming the consequences of one’s actions as a path to make things right again. Repentance was never meant to be a “get-out-of-jail-free” card.

In the same way, some people–especially white folks in the context of talking about race–seem to think that as long as their intentions aren’t specifically harmful we should be granted a free pass on the harm that they caused. I’ve also personally experienced this with men thinking that if they didn’t intend harm, they should get a pass on the impact that they caused to women, and it doesn’t work like that either.

Intentions do matter. It’s ever so much worse if the intent is to actually cause harm and there’s not room for repentance or reconciliation in that case.

My main takeaway tonight was that if our intent is truly good, then we should welcome our neighbors telling us about the impact of our actions and be able to learn from that experience and change our actions, instead of centering our intentions in the conversation. By nature of someone telling you how they impacted them, they assumed good intentions, or they wouldn’t have bothered.

Ruby Woo Prep Call 3–On Grounding and other spiritual practices

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I have to say again how excited I am to approach this trip. Just in the space of the three prep calls we’ve covered some theology, some history and culture, and now spiritual practices to take into the experience of pilgrimage. A lot of us were feeling scattered and overwhelmed at the start of the call tonight as the days before we leave tick by with so much left to accomplish on our lists. Teresa Mateus led us through some grounding exercises that refocused us on our breath and inside our bodies, allowing us to release tension and stress and other things we were holding onto.

I had a realization in the middle of exercise two that I really am a five on the enneagram. I feel like I’m all about feelings and intuition but I can’t actually access any of that until I can mentally process it. I can be in a space of contemplation and feel complete blankness and until I start writing about it, I can’t tell you what I experienced or saw. It’s an interesting thing to sit with and see where that takes me.

There were two separate exercises, the first, the word I heard was just “whole.” That isn’t surprising as it’s one I’ve been sitting with for a couple years now. It’s behind the story of the Sitka spruce tattoo on my forearm. I got that to embody embracing my whole story so I could write the ending. And that embracing is an ongoing practice as I process trauma and memories and the like, but if I don’t embrace the whole story, I give power to the past that prevents me from writing the end of this story as the primary actor instead of someone being acted on.

In the second exercise, people are seeing color and hearing things and I’m like, I was just still and empty, but as I thought about it (she didn’t call on me first, yay!) and jotted some notes I realized that what I was feeling was open, and an image came to me then: one of standing on a rock on a mountain, overlooking a valley with my arms outstretched, waiting. Not too sure what that’s all about just yet, but I’m open to finding out.

In four days I’ll be in NY getting started on this great adventure!

Ruby Woo Prep Entry 2–On Tables, Kingdoms, and Zero-sum games

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Tonight’s call was a deep dive into the world of women, race, and the church. Lisa lead us all in a series of reflections on what the kingdom–or kin-dom–of God looks like vs. what we’ve been taught that it should look like. If the kingdom is about justice and shalom, what have I internalized that church should be as a white woman? Culture and the church has presented seats at the table for woman and people of color as though it is a zero sum game. The white men don’t give up their seats and therefore we are put in competition with each other. White women have been far too fast to trade justice and freedom for everyone for seats at the white man’s table and white men have leveraged white supremacy as a tool to keep white women from joining forces with people of color to overturn the white, male assumption of power.

And this isn’t just in the secular world, it is very much mirrored within the church and much to our detriment. The assumption of whiteness as leadership in mainline churches for example is one we really need to take a hard look at. Why is it that when we in the Episocopal church say we are “inclusive” on our church profiles, what we mean is LGBTQIA+ friendly because we’re still a majority white denomination? Why is it so hard to get our church as a whole to do more than lip service to repenting from the sin of racism? How can we hope to transform the culture when we are so busy mirroring the destructive aspects of it? And what would it look like to turn these structures on their heads and change up the seats and make the table big enough for everyone?

I don’t have answers to all these yet, but these are important things to ask as we move forward into the next year. I know I want to commit to justice for everyone. I don’t want a seat at the table if I had to elbow someone out of the way to get it because that’s not how God’s table works. God’s table is big enough for everyone and thriving in God’s kingdom is not a zero-sum game. If there’s competition for the seats, then it’s not God’s table.

One more call tomorrow night then it’s laundry and packing time to get ready to head to NY on Sunday afternoon! I’m going to try to keep informally typing up thoughts like this, sort of like letting you all peek at my journal so to speak and feel free to jump in the dialogue as we go!